Monday, April 19, 2010

Half-Hour Gaming: Tengen, 720˚

The thing that is often noted about emulation is that it devalues the shit out of individual games: you can spend five minutes downloading eighty-five old NES games, but let's face it: ninety-five percent of them you aren't gonna actually PLAY for more than five minutes. These old games don't tend to be super-accessible, and since you didn't PAY for them, there's little incentive even to make an effort. It's an uncomfortably accurate reflection of our postmodern mindset. But I decided it might be interesting to FORCE myself to take old games I would ordinarily have little or no interest in and play them for a half hour to see what happens, and whether one actually CAN make oneself like these oldsters. First up: 720˚. This is a Tengen game, meaning it is NOT licensed by Nintendo. Is that a bad sign?

Above: This is how I spent most of my time.

So you're some random skateboard dude. You start in a big, empty hub with various ramps and things around. You can try to do tricks using these props, and occasionally earn small point totals, but I found that I would almost invariably fall on my ass when I tried it, so I quickly learned not to bother. There are maps you can step on to see where you are in the grand scheme of things. There are also various "enemies," I guess you would call them--joggers, flexing muscles dudes, women hurling frisbees, swarms of bees, occasional cars. I would recommend not getting hit by them, although your energy slowly decreases regardless.

This hub area is LARGE. That's actually a big problem I have with the game--you have to navigate a LOT of boring, empty space to get anywhere. There are shops--for helmets, pads, other random skateboard things--that seem to sell you shit you already have. I have no idea why. BUT NEVER MIND THAT. There are also courses you can access from the hub, which are the heart of the game, or ought to be. You have to do four of these--"ramp," "slalom," "downhill," and "jump." I started with "slalom," in which, as expected, you have to navigate between flags on a brief course. I failed, and was awarded "no medal." I wanted to try again, certain I could do better, but now the course was CLOSED. Alas! Failure earns you a big, Rolling-Stones-type mouth and tongue on your score sheet. Next: "ramp." You go to a skateboard rampy thing, and...well, I can't really say much more about it than that. It's totally inscrutable to me. I would get to the top of the ramp, and if I pushed a button--which you clearly need to do in order to get SOMETHING to happen--I would fall, kersplat. Occasionally I managed to get to the top and start going back down standing on my head, and THEN I'd fall, kersplat. This went on for a minute or so before I was declared a worthless failure. My little skateboard man looked very dejected. Third: downhill. This one turned out to be my favorite; it vaguely reminds me of Marble Madness--you have to navigate a short downhill obstacle course. And whaddaya know! I did it well enough to be awarded a silver medal! Whoo!

Now, I'd gotten a few game overs up to this point, but the game lets you continue right where you died, so I hadn't really paid it much mind. Unfortunately, this was about where I realized that you do NOT have unlimited continues, so that was that. Grr. BUT! That wasn't a half hour, so I boldly started over! This time I was prudent enough not to try anything funny on the hub area, so I lost a LOT less energy. Nor did I waste time or money buying shit for no obvious reason. Instead, I went straight back to the slalom, went slower this time, and BAM! GOLD MEDAL! I rule! I failed the ramp again, grabbed another silver on the downhill, and then it was time for the "jump:" you're supposed to go down a hill and then, well, JUMP! I screwed this up pretty badly and got NO MEDAL. Predictably. But I got to move on to level two regardless! Whoo!

The second hub area is just a palette-swap of the first. I'm not sure how it works, but apparently here you need to do the events in a certain order, as some of the attendants snippily informed me that, lacking a "ticket," I should "get lost." Dammit. But I was able to successfully fail at the ramp again, as well as the jump. And over before I could do anything else. I think that about covers it.

ASSESSMENT: Actually, what little of the downhill section I got to play was pretty darned fun, and the slalom wasn't bad either. I think the jump bit could be a good time too, if I could figure it out. Pretty sure there's no set of circumstances under which the ramp is not gonna suck, though. The main problem, though, is that the ratio of time spent actually DOING these events to time spent in the big, bland overworld is vexingly low. There's potential here, but I think the designers REALLY should have rethought the game to emphasize the fun parts and deëmphasize the annoying, pointless ones. Also, I never actually got to do a 720˚. To be honest, I'm not even totally sure what a 720˚ IS. Maybe that means I'm not in the target audience for a skateboarding game, but I think that only strengthens my point.


Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

I'm not sure that emulation "devalues" games, necessarily. Many of them didn't have much value to begin with. I mean, let's face it -- a lot of NES games were pretty incompetently made. Hell, I was pretty bored by Retro Game Challenge, which tried to imitate 8-bit games while fixing some of their technical shortcomings (e.g. the way that, if you set two attacks on an enemy in Final Fantasy, and the first attack killed the enemy, the second attack would automatically miss and be wasted). Even with the technical touch-up, a lot of the games were just boring, I found.

To be sure, the NES had its masterpieces. But then again, I have no problem playing Contra, Ninja Gaiden or Super Mario Bros. for more than five minutes. Those are exceptions to the rule, though.


11:41 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

Yeah, sad to say, Retro Game Challenge got by on novelty more than anything else. I still wish the sequel would be localized, though.

It's true that there are plenty of bad NES games, but I would say that that just contributes to the problem: you can't really KNOW if a game is going to reward persistence or not, so the tendency is to take the path of least resistance and stick with the tried-and-true classics like those you mention.

11:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

The sequel was supposed to cover 16-bit games, wasn't it? That would have more potential -- the best parts of Retro Game Challenge, in my view, were the ones that depicted the end of the 8-bit era (the RPG and the last action game).

I suppose the counter-argument is that, if an NES game hasn't amassed some kind of a cult following by now (thus causing us to at least have heard of it), it's probably for good reason. Especially when you consider just how obsessive some NES fans are -- if even they couldn't get a lot out of a game, there just might not be a lot to get out of it.


2:43 PM  

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